Generation Y have Turned their Backs on Alcohol

Exclusive Demos polling for Character and Moderation: Alcohol paper finds health and money-conscious Millennials are shunning alcohol at unprecedented levels

19 per cent of 16-24s don’t drink, and 66 per cent don’t feel alcohol is important to their social lives

41 per cent of Gen-Y drinkers think alcohol is less important to their own social life than to their parents’

Young people cite growing awareness of health, not being able to afford alcohol, and alcohol being harder to get hold of as key drivers behind their reduced drinking habits

The findings suggest a seismic cultural shift in youth drinking habits, and validates official statistics showing young people are drinking less than their counterparts were 10 years ago


Exclusive new research from Demos think tank has found that the vast majority of 16-24s either don’t drink (19 per cent) or feel alcohol isn’t important to their social lives (66 per cent).

The polling of 16-24-year-olds confirms ONS statistics, which have shown a marked decline in self-reporting of youth drinking habits over the past decade.

It also reveals that some young people think that alcohol is more important to their parents’ lives than to their own (30 per cent).

While it has been speculated that an increase in migrant populations from non-drinking cultures could stand behind the falling alcohol rates, Demos’ own analysis shows this would only account for up to 31 per cent of the rise in the number of teetotallers.


The polling rather suggests that the declining consumption levels represent both a substantial cultural shift amongst young people, and positive progress towards a policy ambition of successive governments, with 66 per cent citing increased awareness in the health consequences of excessive drinking as contributing to the fall.


Other popular factors included young people being less able to afford alcohol compared to 10 years ago (55 per cent) and many believing that alcohol is now more difficult to obtain under-age compared to 10 years ago (47 per cent). Over 40 per cent (42 per cent) also cited the time young people spend on social media and the Internet as having contributed to the decline in alcohol consumption.


Against the backdrop of positive change in young people’s drinking habits overall, however,Character and Moderation: Alcohol highlights how serious problems with youth drinking remain, particularly in certain areas of the country, and that young people with a history of alcohol abuse in their family continue to remain particularly vulnerable to developing unhealthy relationships with alcohol.


To build on the recent progress and target those who remain most at risk, the paper recommends both local and national governments, public health organisations and the alcohol industry take decisive action, through the following recommendations.


Central Government should:


1. Provide a comprehensive early intervention strategy as part of its strategy to tackle alcohol misuse.


2. Continue to target resources at the home environment and support for parents, particularly those in vulnerable situations, through increased investment in Family Nurse Partnerships.


3. Link the size of public health budgets that local authorities receive to alcohol harm profiles.


4. Encourage improved joined-up working between Government departments with current responsibility for alcohol (Home Office, Department for Health, Public Health England), the Department for Education and the Cabinet Office.


The Department for Education should:


5. Ensure that teacher training colleges are teaching best practice pedagogical approaches to ensure that teachers adopt teaching strategies that evidence shows are more likely to build character in their pupils.


6. Embed Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) within the national curriculum, and incentivise schools to adopt a ‘whole school’ approach to character development.


Public Health England should:


7. Work with local authorities and the Department for Education to ensure that ‘life skills’ programmes in schools are considered an important component of public health strategies at a local level.


8. Invest in further research to understand what is causing the sustained decline in youth drinking.


Local Governments should:


9. Help to strengthen local alcohol partnerships to curb underage drinking – working with schools and public health workers – and continue to promote diversionary activities and innovations such as non-drinking pubs for young people.


The Alcohol Industry should:


10. Look at ways to engage positively with national campaigns aimed at building character skills and healthy lifestyle choices amongst young people.



Commenting on the findings, the paper’s author and Head of Citizenship at Demos, Jonathan Birdwell, said:

“These findings strengthen our understanding of a phenomenon that has taken many of us by surprise. They reveal the potential of public policy to both encourage and complement cultural changes, to make a real difference in challenging harmful behaviour. But while the trends are pointing in a positive direction, we cannot ignore the fact that there is still a relatively significant minority of young people indulging in hazardous binge drinking – which is damaging to their health, their career prospects and to society as a whole. It is important for us now to build on these insights and determine the best means of directing limited public funds to tackle this pernicious issue at the root cause.”



Sophie Gaston, Press and Communications Manager, Demos
ph. 0207 367 6325 (Out of Hours: 07472745678)


Notes to Editors

Character and Moderation: Alcohol will be published on on Wednesday 15 July.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,002 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4th-8th June 2015.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults aged 16-24 years.